If you had asked Colleen Wilson several years ago if she expected to be leading the pack around cross country courses all over Atlantic Canada at university meets, she wouldn’t have known how to respond. The Dalhousie Tiger phenom raced at a provincial level in high school, but says the emphasis at the time was more on fun than chasing podium performances.
“I was middle-of-the-pack and wasn’t sure I wanted to run in university,” she says about her early running career. Not something you’d expect to hear from the woman who has won each of the three races in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference this season, often by huge margins over the second place runner.
Wilson started running early, competing in track and field in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she was living at the time. Upon her return to Canada, she ran cross country and track for her school team, as well as several seasons of cross country for the Hamilton Olympic Club (HOC) during middle school and high school. She credits the HOC and her coach, Patti Moore, for providing a strong foundation during her early years.
After high school, Wilson headed to Queen’s University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in civil engineering, with a thesis in coastal engineering. She was a member of the Queen’s Gael’s cross country team as an undergrad, but since joining Dalhousie as a graduate student she has taken the top spot on the team – as well as too many individual meet titles to count. The women’s team won the AUS cross country title last year and came fifth at Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships. Wilson placed 12th overall, and was named a second-team All Canadian.
“As a team we’re hoping to decrease the time spread between runners, to hopefully match or better our placing from last year [at CIS championships]. Individually, I’m hoping to finish in an All-Canadian position again.” That doesn’t seem out of reach. Led by Wilson, the Tigers are riding a three meet winning streak, and are currently ranked 8th in the nation.
The Ancaster, Ont., native has also found international success, competing for Canada in cross country at the International University Sports Federation (FISU) World University Championships. Her Dalhousie teammate, Matt McNeil, raced too – the first time that either athlete represented Canada.
The Tigers’ cross country coach, Rich Lehman, says that Wilson was greatly missed last year while she was at FISU. The race was at the same time as CIS track and field championships, but the chance to wear the maple leaf was not something Wilson was about to turn down.
Wilson crossed the line in Cassino, Italy, 27th overall, and third of six runners on the Canadian team. The trip to Italy to represent Canada was “an amazing experience,” and a chance to race against a fresh group of competitors on a tricky course. So far, it has been one of the highlights of her running career, along with the other travel opportunities provided by racing, such as track meets in Boston.
Lehman cites his top runner’s versatility as a great asset to the team, saying she can “go from [six kilometre races in] cross country down to the 800m if she really wants to.”
According to Wilson, her favourite distance on the track is a happy medium – the 3000m.
During the summer, she trains with the Halifax Road Hammers, and has competed in all manner of distances – everything “from a mile to a half marathon”. Her favourite was the Cabot Trail Relay: a two-day, 17-stage relay race covering over 276 kilometres.
Wilson is no slouch academically either. At the moment, she is working on her Master’s project in physical oceanography, looking at the site characterization of small-scale tidal turbines in the Bay of Fundy. Her main focus is examining the interactions between tidal currents and wind waves, and she receives information via an instrument near Digby that monitors the conditions. The majority of her work is done on the university campus, and she visits the project site occasionally.
After her university career is done, Wilson plans to enter the working world once she has taken some time off. For now, there is still work to be done on the course and on the track. She has already been named AUS Athlete of the Week once this fall, and looks to continue her winning ways. So far, so good, she says. “But the bigger races have yet to come.”
And when they do, she will be more than ready.